The New York Times - USA (2020-10-16)

(Antfer) #1


LOS ANGELES — An extraor-
dinary demographic shift is
sweeping through U.S. university
campuses as immigrants and chil-
dren of immigrants become an
ever-larger share of student bod-
ies, with implications for the fu-
ture of the country’s work force,
higher education and efforts to re-
duce racial and economic inequal-
A new study released on Thurs-
day found that more than 5.3 mil-
lion students, or nearly 30 percent
of all students enrolled in colleges
and universities in 2018, hailed
from immigrant families, up from
20 percent in 2000. The population
of so-called immigrant-origin stu-
dents grew much more than that
of U.S.-born students of parents
also born in the United States, ac-
counting for 58 percent of the in-
crease in the total number of stu-
dents in higher education during
that period.
These students, most of them
nonwhite, are the offspring of In-
dians who came to study in the
United States and stayed; the chil-
dren of Latin Americans who
crossed the border for blue-collar
jobs; and some whose families
fled civil wars around the world as
“In higher education, we are
producing and training the future
work force. That future work force
has more students from immi-
grant families than previously un-
derstood,” said Miriam Feldblum,
executive director of the Presi-
dents’ Alliance on Higher Educa-
tion and Immigration, a group of
college and university officials
that commissioned the study from
the Migration Policy Institute, a
nonpartisan think tank.
Studies have shown that college
graduates earn $1 million more
over their lifetime than those with
a high school degree. They also
have better health outcomes, are
more civically engaged and have
an overall better quality of life.
“Accessing higher education
enables immigrant students to
achieve their dreams, and it be-
comes an economic and social mo-
bility generator, benefiting them-
selves, their children and the
country,” said Ms. Feldblum, a for-
mer dean of Pomona College in
In California, immigrants or
children of immigrants accounted
for about half of enrolled students
in 2018. In eight states, Florida,
Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada,
New Jersey, New York, Texas and
Washington, they represented 30
percent to 40 percent of the stu-
dent body. And in 32 states, at
least 20,000 students from immi-
grant families were pursuing de-
grees, from associate and bache-
lor’s degrees to master’s and doc-

torate degrees.
An overwhelming majority of
immigrant-origin students are
U.S. citizens or legal residents.
But they are likely to face barriers
and limits on resources that many
other students do not.
“Going into the college process,
these students themselves or
their families may not have a lot of
knowledge about navigating col-
lege applications and the financial
aid process,” said Jeanne Bat-
alova, a senior policy analyst at
Migration Policy Institute and the
lead author of the report.
Once immigrant-origin stu-
dents are in school, their dropout
rates tend to be higher because
many come from poor house-
“They juggle multiple responsi-
bilities, which makes it more chal-
lenging for them to stay in school
and complete their degrees on
time,” Ms. Batalova said. “If there
is a health or family emergency,
they lack a safety net to fall back
on. That interferes with attending
classes and completing assign-
Immigrants and U.S.-born chil-
dren of immigrants represented
85 percent of all Asian-American
and Pacific Islander students, and
63 percent of Latino students in

  1. About a quarter of Black stu-
    dents were from immigrant fam-
    As their numbers swell, the stu-
    dents from immigrant families
    will only become more important
    to the long-term financial health of
    American colleges and universi-
    Even before the coronavirus
    pandemic threw the operation of
    colleges and universities into dis-
    array, there was concern about fu-
    ture enrollment amid the coun-
    try’s falling fertility rate and de-
    clining international student en-
    rollment. The United States has
    faced intensified competition for
    international students from coun-
    tries like Canada, Australia and
    the United Kingdom.
    “We will see a shrinking domes-
    tic pool of prospective college stu-
    dents in the 2020s,” said Nathan
    Grawe, an economist at Carleton
    College who studies how chang-
    ing demographics affect the mar-
    ket for higher education. “Immi-
    grants, their children and grand-
    children are the future of higher
    ed,” he said.
    Public universities provide the
    main gateway to higher education
    for the immigrant-origin students.
    In 2018, 83 percent were enrolled
    in public institutions compared
    with 17 percent in private schools,
    according to the study.
    In the fall of 2019, 54 percent of
    the students attending California
    State University, the nation’s larg-

est public university system, were
the first in their families to pursue
a college degree, and many were
of immigrant origin.
Among this year’s freshmen is
Carlos Yalibat, the American-born
son of a cleaning lady and a valet
parker from Guatemala. Mr. Yali-
bat, who graduated from Holly-
wood High, attends California
State University, Northridge,
where he plans to major in me-
chanical engineering.
“I grew up hearing from my
parents that they came here to
give their children better lives,”
said Mr. Yalibat, 18, who helped his
mother clean apartment buildings
with his two older sisters when he
was young.
“I always knew I would go to
college,” he said, noting that his
goal is to get a job with Boeing or
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
But like many children of immi-
grants, he works almost full time,
while studying, to pay for his
phone, gas, car insurance and

other personal expenses. Several
days a week he helps track orders
and pack shipments in a ware-
house for a clothing manufacturer
in Los Angeles’s garment district.
Last year, 58 percent of under-
graduate students at New Jersey
City University were first-genera-
tion college students, many of
them immigrants or children of
Many have gone on to success-
ful careers in the business world
and community service, said Sue
Henderson, president of the pub-
lic university, which has nearly
6,000 undergraduate students,
nine out of 10 of them commuters.
During the Covid-19 crisis many
students have had to endure “ex-
treme challenges,” she said, be-
cause of illness and job losses
among family members.
Thus, most of the $16 million in
federal and state emergency fund-
ing the university received has
been distributed to students for
scholarships and technology to

enable them to continue their edu-
cation without interruption, Dr.
Henderson said.
Among the beneficiaries was
Samuel Ansah, 21, an immigrant
from Ghana who studies comput-
er science. His father is a delivery
driver for a bakery and his mother
a caretaker to older people whose
work hours were severely re-
duced because of the pandemic.
Mr. Ansah applied for a $2,
grant from the university in May,
which he used toward his tuition
last semester. He also worked at
an Amazon warehouse when
classes went remote.
“I had to step in to support the
family and also save for my tu-
ition,” he said.
Crystal Tepale, 21, whose
mother is an undocumented im-
migrant from Mexico, also re-
ceived $2,000 from the university.
“Being a first-generation col-
lege student, it’s a lot of pressure,”
said Ms. Tepale, a senior who is
majoring in criminal justice and

hopes to become a lawyer.
“My mom already says, ‘I am
waiting for you to become some-
one in life with a career so that we
can have a better life,’ ” said Ms.
Tepale, who was born in New Jer-
International students who
come to the United States on visas
accounted for 5.5 percent of all col-
lege and university students in
the 2018-19 academic year.
Unlike international students,
who typically return to their home
countries after completing their
studies, children from immigrant
families have been raised in the
United States and intend to re-
main in the country.
“I’m definitely staying here.
The reason my parents came from
India in the first place was for the
opportunities,” said Simran Sethi,
19, who grew up in Dallas and is a
sophomore studying engineering
at Texas A&M. “A future in Amer-
ica is what I am looking forward

Immigration Wave

Is Changing Face

Of Colleges in U.S.

Enrollment by Children of Migrants

Rises, Shaping Work Force of Future



Crystal Tepale, a senior at New Jersey City University
and a first-generation college student in her family.

Samuel Ansah, an immigrant from Ghana, received aid
to continue his studies at New Jersey City University.


“I always knew I would go to college,” said Carlos Yalibat, a California student whose parents are from Guatemala.

The suicide rate among military
veterans keeps edging higher, and
to address it Congress passed a
major bill this fall, named in honor
of a Navy SEAL named Cmdr.
John Scott Hannon who was an
outspoken proponent of veterans’
mental health treatment before he
took his own life with a gun in
But at the last minute, lawmak-
ers stripped the bill of a proven
prevention technique that saves
veterans’ lives, and might have
saved the life of Commander Han-
non. Why? Because the provision
in question touched a third rail in
Washington politics: the danger
posed by firearms.
The Commander John Scott
Hannon Veterans Mental Health
Care Improvement Act, now
awaiting the president’s signa-
ture, still does things the com-
mander’s family says he would be
proud of: funding community or-
ganizations that work with veter-
ans, and scholarships to train
more mental health professionals.
But before it was modified, the
bill would also have required
health care workers who treat vet-
erans to be trained on how to talk
with at-risk patients about the
danger of having guns in the
house and about how to reduce
that risk — a strategy known as le-
thal-means safety.
Evidence shows that reducing
access to lethal means can drasti-
cally cut the risk of suicide. And
for veterans, especially, the lethal
means are overwhelmingly fire-
The suicide rate among veter-
ans has been climbing for more
than a decade, and is now roughly
double that of the nation as a
whole. Americans who die by sui-
cide use a gun about half the time,
but among veterans, the figure is

70 percent.
The lethal-means provision that
was stripped from the bill was in-
troduced by Representative Lau-
ren Underwood, Democrat of Illi-
nois. “I’m a public health nurse, so
I’m trained to look at the data and
design policies that are effective
and evidence-based,” Ms. Under-
wood said in a statement. “The
data we have shows there’s no so-
lution to the veteran suicide crisis
without improving lethal-means
The Department of Veterans
Affairs has been trying to develop
ways to talk to veterans about
guns and suicide for more than a
decade, but the topic is so cultur-
ally and politically fraught that
progress has been slow and un-
even, in part because doctors do
not want to alienate patients.
The lethal-means provision
would have provided mandatory
training to nearly all Veterans Af-
fairs doctors and mental health
professionals, as well as private
doctors who treat patients with
veterans’ health benefits.
Like the conversations doctors
have had for years with cigarette
smokers, the approach involves
making sure the patient under-
stands the dangers of easily ac-
cessible guns, and then asking
whether the patient wants to
come up with a plan to reduce
those dangers. Suggestions in-
clude locking up the guns in the
house or storing them with a
friend, relative or local gun club
until the patient’s risk of suicide
has subsided.
The lethal-means safety ap-
proach has broad support among
major veterans’ groups, and it was
included in a list of 10 suicide pre-
vention recommendations re-
leased by the White House in the
But some veterans’ groups op-

posed the strategy, saying the
mere suggestion that veterans re-
move guns from their homes
could deter them from seeking
mental health care.
“This emphasis on firearms
misses the point,” Sherman
Gillums, chief of strategy for the
veterans group Amvets, which op-
posed the legislation, said in a
commentary posted online before
the bill was passed. He said veter-

ans’ mental health care should fo-
cus on better therapy techniques
and reducing reliance on medica-
tions, adding, “I’m not encour-
aged by this emphasis on the ac-
tion that was taken and not the un-
derlying cause.”
Anything that smacks of gun
control is political kryptonite for
conservatives. Despite White
House backing, Ms. Underwood
was unable to find a Republican
co-sponsor for the lethal-means
safety provision. House Demo-
crats added the provision to the
bill, but it was removed during ne-
gotiations with the Republican-
controlled Senate, according to
two people familiar with the nego-

Despite the setback, prevention
experts say it makes sense to con-
tinue to expand lethal-means
safety, whether or not it is man-
dated by law.
“If you want to really make a
dent in preventing suicide, this
would have the most impact,” said
Russell Lemle, the former chief
psychologist for the San Fran-
cisco Veterans Affairs hospital
For years, he said, the medical
profession has generally tried to
reduce suicide by treating pa-
tients’ underlying mental health
issues. But epidemiologists have
realized that impressive gains can
be made by making the physical
act of suicide more difficult and
less lethal.
“Suicide is often an impulsive
act,” Dr. Lemle said. “If we can put
distance between the impulse and
the means, we can make a real dif-
When access to an especially le-
thal method is restricted, the sui-
cide rate often drops. Up until the
1960s, the ovens and stoves in
many British homes used coal
gas, which was rich in dangerous
carbon monoxide and was impli-
cated in many deaths, accidental
or intentional. As the country
transitioned to safer natural gas
the suicide rate fell by one-third.
Bangladesh struggled in the
1990s with a high rate of suicide by
ingesting toxic insecticides. After
the country banned the most le-
thal poisons in 2000, the suicide
rate dropped by one-quarter.
The United States applies the
same principle to physical loca-
tions like the Golden Gate Bridge
in San Francisco and the Coro-
nado Bridge in San Diego, where
barriers and nets are starting to
be installed to protect suicidal
Because so many suicides are

gun deaths, they present a huge
opportunity for prevention if doc-
tors and other health workers can
find an effective way to talk to vet-
erans about guns, according to Dr.
Matthew Miller, who teaches epi-
demiology at Northeastern Uni-
versity and is a leading re-
searcher on gun violence.
“We know the risk is there,” Dr.
Miller said. But studies show that
only about 10 percent of gun own-
ers are aware of the higher risk, he
said, suggesting that there is
enormous room to inform people
and encourage them to change
their habits.
Veterans Affairs has trained
more than 20,000 health care
workers in recent years to talk to
patients about lethal-means
safety. The language removed
from the John Scott Hannon bill
would have made that training
mandatory for many more health
care professionals.
Those conversations, though,
carry their own risk. Opponents
say that required lethal-means
safety stigmatizes mental illness
and may deter people from seek-
ing care, which is also a criticism
of so-called red flag laws that al-
low the police in several states to
temporarily confiscate firearms
from people who are deemed by a
judge to be a danger to them-
selves or to others.
A survey of veterans who
served in the military after 2001
found that 21 percent were hesi-
tant to get mental health care from
Veterans Affairs because they
were worried their guns would be
The department’s first effort at
lethal-means safety was to give
away gun locks to veterans. The
program was met with an uproar
when recipients of the free locks
were asked to give their ad-
dresses and say how many guns

they owned. Opponents accused
the department of trying to start a
federal gun registry.
Dr. Lemle, who became a senior
policy analyst at the Veterans
Healthcare Policy Institute after
leaving Veterans Affairs last year,
said the system’s reluctance to
speak openly about the problem of
guns had only fueled disinforma-
“The idea is not to restrict any-
one,” Dr. Lemle said. “This is not a
gun rights issue, it’s about coming
up with a mutually derived plan to
be safe. For too long, I think we’ve
been afraid to talk about it, to the
disservice of our patients.”
Commander Hannon, whom the
prevention bill is named after,
may be a case in point. After a 23-
year career serving around the
world with the SEALs, he retired
in 2011 and moved to Montana,
where he struggled for years with
post-traumatic stress, traumatic
brain injuries and bipolar dis-
order. He found solace in therapy
programs that used animals, and
in helping other veterans.
He owned several guns. Out of
concern for his safety, his family
stored the guns with a fellow
SEAL at one point, but he soon de-
manded them back. His sister,
Kim Parrott, said the family never
formally learned how to talk to
him about the dangers guns pose
to veterans with mental health
“It would have been tough,” Ms.
Parrott said, indicating that her
brother and other veterans were
attached to their firearms. “But I
see how that could change.”

Gun Divide Poses Another Hurdle in Fight to Reduce Veterans’ Suicides


‘If we can put

distance between

the impulse and the

means, we can

make a real


Russell Lemle
Former chief psychologist for the
San Francisco Veterans Affairs
hospital system.

If you are having thoughts of sui-
cide, call the National Suicide Pre-
vention Lifeline at 1-800-273-
(TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSui- for a list of ad-
ditional resources.
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